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Gentlemen of Fortune

Pirate Living History 1680-1725

The Sailor's Short Jacket

When we think of pirate clothing, one of the images that immediately pops into our minds is the "Pirate Coat" (historically called a "Justaucorp").  The historical record though, seems to point to this as the exception, rather than the rule.  The most common item found, in the possession of sailors and pirates alike is a sort of short Jacket. This style of jacket seems to be ubiquitous to the lower classes and almost constitutes the working man's uniform. This style of jacket pops up everywhere in period graphics as well as in wills, inventories, and probate sales.

The discovery of the the Gunnister Man and his clothing (late 17th Century) as well as the clothing from the Arnish Moor find (early 18th Century), include variations of these short jackets.

18th Century Short Jacket

Arnish Moor Jacket

Arnish Moor Jacket

This jacket is described in Helen Bonnett's work A murder victim discovered: Clothing and other finds from an early 18th-Century grave on Arnish Moor. It was made from undyed woolen 2/2 twill, woven from Z spun yarn and sewn with 2 ply yarn. The buttons were made from similar woolen material and had equivalent button holes.

The jacket is thigh length and cut close to the body to the waist, where it then flares. A single vent is at the end of the center back seam. There is a 2 inch standing collar and the jacket closes from the neck to the waist with 11 buttons.

The sleeves are cut close to the curve of the arm and end with a vertical split which is closed with three cloth buttons

The jacket has seen numerous repairs, and little attempt has been made to match material or color, nor is any skilled tailoring on the repairs evident. The sleeves have been replaced, and these "repairs" have been applied directly over the existing ragged sleeves. This jacket appears to have a lining made from another coat, turned inside out and reused. The single pocket of this coat is just below the waist on the left front.

Short Jacket Pattern

Arnish Moor Jacket Pattern

It had two buttons for fastening, however, only one remains. The pocket was faced with red and white checked cloth, from which the rest of the pocket was constructed.

While this jacket certainly does not have any naval provenance, it does seem to fit the description and matches the types of short jackets that we see associated with sailors and pirates during the GAoP.

The Gunnister Man's Jacket

Then next jacket in our original refrences comes from the clothing found at the site of the "Gunnister Man." In 1951, the grave of a fully clothed man was found in Gunnister, Shetland. The description of the clothing comes from Clothing and Other Articles From a Late 17th Century Grave at Gunnister, Shetland by Audrey Henshall and Stuart Maxwell.

Gunnister Jacket

Gunnister Jacket Late 17th Century

The jacket was made from 2/2 twill wool, that was firm and thick. The inner side of the wool has a considerable raised nap to help with retaining warmth, with the outside napped, but less so. The lining is a similar, but less thick cloth. The overall color of the wool is dull brown, but has been woven with a natural colored wool that shows light to black fleece.

A stand-up collar measures 1 3/4. The jacket has a total of 12 buttons down the front which are spaced at 1 1/4 inches. There are four buttons missing, which includes the collar button, though that has been replaced with a "roughly" cut hole and 2-ply thread knotted through it. 

There are seams at each side, and one down the back which are flared and open the last 6 inches. There is no lining in the sleeves, and the cuffs appear to have had four functional buttons each.

Both of these garments are similar and depict the sort of jacket that a working man might own during the GAoP. From the pictorial record, we see jackets like these as well, however, there are wide variances in skirt length, number of buttons, with/without pockets, and number and location of any vents.

The "jacket" itself is evolving during the GAoP and, while a decendant of the doublet, it is really finding its own legs and can't be pinned down to any particular standard. Since this was a clothing item almost exclusively to the working class, it seems to be more adapted to locale and function for its wearer.

Early Sailor Jacket

From Exquemelin - 1688

Again its hard to put our finger on the introduction of the archetype "sailor's jacket" of the GAoP. An early instance is found in the Frontispiece of Exquemelin's Historie des Avantureiers des Boucanier... It is from an 1688 edition which makes it early from a GAoP standpoint. The jacket pictured is certainly more "sailor jacket" like than it is doublet like, and you can juxtapose it with the Spanish figure lying down that is wearing a doublet.

Captain Charles Johnson's 1724 book A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the most notorious Pyrates, is another excellent source for a pictorial record of sailors and pirates during the GAoP. One has to be careful though, as this book has been reprinted many times and in many different languages, so you want to be sure that you are looking at one of the earlier editions. Some "later" editions do not use the original artwork and instead use art that is contemporary with the date of publishing. While this might not be a big deal to some, the original artwork was rendered in 1723-1724, which, of course, is in the GAoP.

The artist, who was probably based in London, was intimately familiar with the clothing of sailors and probably only needed to look out of his window for a reference. While the artist may have never met any of the pirates in person, he definitely would have seen sailors and would have known how to render them to a public that was also familiar with the appearance of sailors. It wouldn't have served the artist well nor helped Johnson's book if he had not created believable representations of sailors.

So, while Capt John Phillips may not have looked anything like the picture in the 1724 edition, his depiction would have been a credible to a GAoP audience.

The picture of Anne Bonny (below left) encapsulates all that we would want from your average GAoP sailor or pirate. While everything about Ann is probably the opposite of "average", this remains one of the most useful period refrences (in my opinion) for determining what a common sailor during the GAoP would look like.

Ann Bonny's story was sensational at the time because she was a woman that had gone to sea as a sailor, disguised as a man. Common sense tells us that if you are wearing a disguise, you would want to blend in with your environment and not draw attention to yourself.

Anne Bonny

Ann Bonny from Johnson

We can assume then, that the artist portraying her, would depict her in clothing that suggested the average sailor clothing of the time. As stated earlier, Ann Bonny may not have looked anything like the picture, and she may have never worn a dark jacket or carried a bearded axe. What is important to us 300 years later though is that she is wearing clothing that anyone who lived in England during the GAoP would instantly recognize as sailors' clothing.

So let's take a brief look at what she is wearing. First, a sailor's jacket that comes slightly below the waist. We cannot determine if it has pockets or buttons at the cuff from this picture, but the left sleeve appears to be a "split" cuff, while the right one is folded back.

Ann is wearing sailor's trousers that button up the front and at least 5 buttons are showing which does not include the waistband. The trousers reach below the calf, but not quite to the ankle. Her shirt seems to be of a standard pattern that is opens to mid chest, no buttons or buttonholes are seen.

The only hint to the picture that the subject is in fact a woman is that her shirt is open and her breasts are exposed.

Black Beard Short Jacket

Black Beard with Short Jacket

Edward Teach, aka Black Beard, is probably the most recognizable name  of all the GAoP era pirates. He has been depicted a lot of different ways, even in GAoP era references, but in this picture we see him in a similar outfit to Ann Bonny above. A sailor's jacket, trousers, and shoes. His particular jacket is relatively long for the style and it comes down to just below the hips. There is one pocket visible on the left front, but no buttons are shown. The jacket closes down the front to about the navel and the rest is without buttons or buttonholes. From his stance, we cannot determine the nature of cuffs, but the sleeves are cut close to the arms. Teach's trousers seem to extend to just above the ankles, and there is a possible pocket without flap or buttons at mid right thigh.

Materials of choice for slop trousers would be linen, hemp, or osnaburg. Since the trousers are pictured often without pockets, this is a viable option as well. Most period depictions have the lengths right above the ankle or at least, below the calf.

***More to follow on breeches***